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Economy in Brief

U.S. Factory Orders Retreated in April; Shipments Continued to Rise
by Sandy Batten  June 4, 2021

• April retreat less than half March gains.

• April shipments added to March surge.

• Order backlogs and inventories continued to rise.

New orders for manufactured goods fell 0.6% m/m (+34.1% y/y) in April following an upwardly revised 1.4% m/m gain in March (initially 1.1%). The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected a 0.3% decline. This was the first monthly decline since April 2020.

Orders in durable goods industries fell 1.3% m/m (+52.2% y/y) in April from an upwardly revised 1.3% m/m increase in March (initially 0.8%). Transportation sector orders slumped 6.6% m/m (+187.9% y/y) in April on top of a downwardly revised 3.1% monthly decline in March. Electrical equipment orders slipped 0.7% m/m in April. Apart from these two declines, orders rose in the other major categories in April.

Nondurable goods orders, which equal shipments, edged up 0.1% m/m (+19.4% y/y) in April on top of a slightly upwardly revised 1.6% monthly gain in March. Shipments from petroleum refineries fell 1.2% m/m in April following a downwardly revised 3.4% m/m increase in March. The weakest performance in April was posted by textile mills, which slumped 2.0% m/m after having risen 3.6% m/m in March. Beverage and tobacco products shipments fell 1.7% m/m. By contrast, leather product shipments jumped up 7.0% m/m.

Shipments of durable goods rose 0.6% m/m (37.8% y/y) in April versus a 2.7% m/m gain in March. Transportation shipments slipped 0.4% m/m in April following a downwardly revised 3.5% m/m rise in March. Shipments of nonmetallic mineral products and shipments of furniture each fell 0.3% m/m. Primary metals shipments rose 2.7% m/m on top of a 4.8% jump in March. Shipments of wood products increased 1.3%, adding to their 4.9% gain in March.

Inventories of manufactured products rose 0.3% m/m (3.6% y/y) in April following a slightly upwardly revised 0.8% m/m gain in March. Durable goods inventories increased 0.5% m/m (2.3% y/y) following a 1.1% rise in March. Transportation equipment inventories rose 0.6% m/m, while excluding transportation, inventories gained 0.3% m/m. Auto inventories strengthened 1.6% m/m. Nondurable goods inventories were unchanged in April (+5.7% y/y). A 1.3% m/m decline in petroleum inventories offset small increases in most other major categories.

The value of unfilled orders rose 0.2% m/m (-2.9% y/y) in April after a 0.5% m/m gain in March. Unfilled orders in the transportation sector fell 0.5% m/m and excluding transportation, backlogs jumped 1.5%. Apart from the decline in transportation backlogs, all other major categories experienced increased unfilled orders in April.

The factory sector data are available in USECON database.

Factory Sector (% chg) - NAICS Classification Apr Mar Feb Apr Y/Y 2020 2019 2018
New Orders -0.6 1.4 0.4 34.1 -10.4 -0.2 5.7
Shipments 0.4 2.1 -1.8 28.2 -6.7 -2.6 6.0
Unfilled Orders 0.2 0.5 0.8 -2.9 -8.2 10.2 -1.6
Inventories 0.3 0.8 0.8 3.6 -0.5 5.3 2.8
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